Geoffrey Parsons memorial concert: remembering his musical legacy

17 August 2005

“Geoffrey Parsons elevated the role of accompanist to new heights with his musicality, authority and quiet strength of playing,” said the Conservatorium’s chair of Ensemble Studies, David Miller of theworld renowned Australian pianist who performed in over 40 countries with such legendary singers as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Janet Baker, Victoria de los Angeles, Jessye Norman, Gerhard Husch and Bryn Terfl.

Though the top accompanist of his generation, Parsons has been little acknowledged in Australia since his sudden death in 1995, aged 65. Now a Conservatorium concert and gala reception on 29 August will pay tribute to him while raising funds for a University-administered scholarship in his name.

“The scholarship is to encourage young Australian concert pianists to study as either piano accompanists or opera repetiteurs, and to emulate Geoffrey Parsons’ pioneering achievement in these often neglected areas of music,” said Mr Miller who will join mezzo soprano Elizabeth Campbell and baritone Michael Lewis in a selection of Brahms lieder, Spanish songs and opera arias for the concert.

Broadcaster and conductor Guy Noble, who studied as an accompanist under Parsons, will be MC.

Geoffrey Parsons and partner Eric Vetheir, London 1967.
Geoffrey Parsons and partner Eric Vetheir, London 1967.

“It’s fitting on the tenth anniversary of Geoffrey’s death for us to honour his legacy and the incredible musical relationship he created on stage with so many of the world’s best singers,” Noble said.

Pictured: Geoffrey Parsons (left) with partner Eric Vetheir, London 1967.

As Parsons, who was constantly in demand, had so well demonstrated, “accompaniment’ was an inadequate term to describe the pianist’s role in what was - in the major song repertoire -  virtually an equal partnership onstage, Mr Miller said. As an artform it was different from, not secondary to solo piano, requiring a different approach to thinking about music.

“You have to be an exceptionally good pianist and musician,” Mr Miller said. “But it also requires great maturity and understanding, the ability to listen carefully, to compromise and to argue a case and to end up with a performance unique to that partnership, rather than a reproduction of what either partner has done before.”

In the Conservatorium’s accompaniment and other ensemble studies courses, which were at the forefront in their field, students had the opportunity to work with established professionals, their peers and younger musicians, just as they would in the profession. “It takes a whole different approach each time,” Mr Miller said.

Parsons, who’d studied at the Conservatorium, left Australia for London in 1950 but returned regularly to tour. He’d conducted several masterclasses at the Conservatorium and was remembered for his encouragement of younger musicians. 

“He was a musical genius at achieving that special balance, never underplaying the piano part but dovetailing it to the individual sound and character of the singer, breathing with them,” said Elizabeth Campbell who had also studied with Parsons.

Tickets to the concert, which starts at 7pm in historic Verbrugghen Hall, include a gala reception with VIPs at the Royal Automobile Club afterwards. (Cost: $100 or $80 concession. Bookings: 8256 2222.)


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